Friday, April 16, 2021

Simone St James - The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Sarah Piper's lonely, threadbare existence changes when her temporary agency sends her to assist a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis—rich, handsome, scarred by World War I, and obsessed with ghosts—has been summoned to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old maid Maddy Clare, who is haunting the barn where she committed suicide.
Since Maddy hated men in life, it is Sarah's task to confront her in death. Soon Sarah is caught up in a deperate struggle. For Maddy's ghost is real, she's angry, and she has powers that defy all reason. Can Sarah and Alistair's assistant, the rough, unsettling Matthew Ryder, discover who Maddy was, where she came from, and what is driving her desire for vengeance—before she destroys them all?

Comment: This is the second book by the author I try and I think I can have a good idea of her style by now. I like the atmosphere and the plots but there's something about the characterization and the way we connect with the characters that still makes me wrinkle my nose...

In this book we meet lonely heroine Sarah Piper as she is hired to be an assistant to mr Alistair Gellis, a man who took the task of writing about all the possible haunting cases int he country. Of all the ones he has worked at, many were fake situations but he has a feeling this new case he got in hands might prove to be the most serious ghost haunting he has ever seen. He decides he can't waste time waiting for his usual assistant to return from an errand and he hires Sarah in particular fo she is a woman and the ghost he wants to pursue is said to hate men. What they didn't count on - as well as mr Ryder, the original assistant who comes back quicker than he imagined - is how far the revenge plans the ghost of Maddy Clare are really going to go...

I must say I liked this story better than the other I had tried by the author. For one, I liked the heroine better and then I felt the overall story line was much more intriguing. But I also thought the same issues I had felt weren't as much to my liking in the other book were visible here as well.

I liked the story as a whole but I feel the strongest element was the ghost itself and how it manifested. The descriptions the author used were well chosen and I think she was able to give the vibe intended, that the ghost was up to no good, that it was affecting the lives of those nearby and that it had to do with something from the past. The ghost is of Maddy Clare, a young servant girl who appeared one day at the Clare residence, coming from the surrounding woods in a terrible state. I think everything about Maddy (and her ghost) was well achieved and conveyed a well done atmosphere of some fear and unease, so much more thinking this was set in the 20s.

There's an explanation, of course, for why this girl one day killed herself and why her ghost remained to haunt the place. The setting is a village where everyone knows everyone, and we are slowly given the clues on how things were and how the other inhabitants felt and behaved. It was also an easy way for us to have access to others' opinions, since the narrator is Sarah and there were things she could not see or be present at. I think the tone and the vibe were well done but let me say that, from a certain point on, it became obvious who caused Maddy harm and contributed for her decision to kill herself. For me, the mystery wasn't so much the identity of the villain but why Maddy. She was a servant girl, had no close family...when we learn the real why, it made me sad...who knows how many other girls (and boys) were treated in a similar way...? (Still are...)

Nevertheless, the ghost haunting  - and hunting - was the most interesting part of the novel for me. I feel Sarah was a good enough narrator, she allowed me to have an idea of what was going on in a steady fashion but I can't pinpoint exactly why I didn't warm up to her as much as I wanted. There were traits I liked seeing in her but her vulnerable side wasn't explored in the way I imagined. She was a competent heroine for this story but not overly captivating.

I suppose I could say that part of my frustration with her is the same I had with the heroine from the other book. I also think there's a trend here, in the author's style, of writing things in a sort of detached manner, the words are there and say something but the feeling isn't always easy to convey. I also believe it would help if the romance between Sarah and her love interest was more...well.. romantic. I can imagine it might be so but we don't have enough scenes with tender/sweet/mundane scenes between them to convince me that, despite the stress and adrenaline of the situation, they would be a stable, strong couple after the story ends. I think the writing could help with this but I figure that's not the author's goal, that the romance is just a plus and not that necessary to develop better.

All in all, I liked this one better...still not as wonderful as I hoped for, but I think I wouldn't mind reading more by the author now I have an understanding of her style. In the right mood and with adjusted expectations, I'll certainly read more books by her one day.
Grade: 7/10

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